The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

“See Also” – Providing Context and Perspective in a Clickbait Culture

Information and media literacy

Librarians and technologists will build the skills and tools we need to effectively navigate and evaluate information in our digital age.

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Lead Organization

The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

New York, New York, United States

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Our digital information ecosystem is broken: we are more easily exploited, more prone to outrage, trust less, and feel more overwhelmed, making it difficult to participate fully in civil society. We must find ways to slow down to actively engage with information, recognize reputable sources, and move beyond our echo chambers. In short, we must bring the way of the librarian to our new information networks. Together with the MIT Media Lab, NYPL will call upon 125 years of librarianship to build protocols and tools that introduce greater context and perspective into our everyday lives. We will leverage the national infrastructure of libraries and librarians to deploy curricula and digital tools that promote information literacy; build on existing platforms to extend the reach of collections and resources; and develop new technologies to help people more readily discover diverse and quality information when they need it most.

Problem Statement

Today’s most “accessible” digital spaces (search engine results and social media) provide information without transparency, perspective, or context. They provide what seem like authoritative, comprehensive, and reliable information immediately, belying the limits and motivations of service providers. Their primary goals are often to influence consumer behaviour, not provide citizen benefit. The worst results of ‘social media’ propagate misinformation and promote anti-social attitudes and behaviour. The internet has become a war for attention. Marketers want our attention to sell products. Political campaigns want our votes. Caught in the middle are users looking for information, who are becoming less trusting, less certain in anything they are reading. It will only get worse as deepfakes, native advertising, bots and AI-powered content creation enter the fray. These technologies can greatly assist human knowledge creation, but are often not built for the public interest, and too easily deployed with malevolent intent. Someone needs to stand up for the citizen.We are less able to absorb, internalize, and critically assess information in the face of data abundance, modern communications, and propaganda. Immediacy has come at the expense of critical thinking, the process through which we build empathy and understand important issues that influence our decisions and affect our lives. Intervening at the source can open a dangerous avenue for censorship by governments or by powerful platforms. Instead, we’ll empower information consumers, so that they can adeptly navigate past sensational headlines to find the socioeconomic and cultural opportunity that lies within technological advancements and abundant information.

Solution Overview

Our solution creates the conditions to build research and analytical skills, not simply fact-check to verify information. We will build a curriculum to formalize and enhance the non-threatening and non-partisan ways librarians teach information literacy, building on nascent curricula and using games and easy-to-remember devices (graphic organizers, tools[10] to evaluate sources’ relevance, authority, purpose, etc.). Within five years we will implement the curriculum nationally, used in programs, patron interactions, and in schools, training a national network of librarians in an enhanced framework and deploying toolkits to reach existing library patrons. The curriculum will promote open dialogue and expose people to a diversity of opinions, scaling the NYPL Community Conversations initiative, which fosters discussion on local topics, co-facilitated by local librarians and community organizations.To support this curriculum, we will develop and deploy digital tools and services to introduce librarianship "at the point of need" where people are receiving information (e.g. in their internet browsers or on their mobile phones). In these interactions, library resources -- including both commercially available and digitized out-of-print e-books -- will be made available via existing, nationally adopted library technologies. Patrons of US public libraries today make over one billion visits per year.[11] We will leverage this infrastructure -- tens of thousands of libraries, hundreds of thousands of librarians, and millions of school visits, programs, and reference sessions -- to reach national scale. These “librarians of the internet,” empowered by a curriculum and technology and collaborating with each other, will reach even beyond these existing networks to serve millions.

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